This is a background post for one of the principles that I believe define pragmatic environmentalists. Other principles are listed at the end of this post.
Roger Pielke, Jr has defined the “iron law” as follows: While people are often willing to pay some price for achieving climate objectives, that willingness has its limits.
Dr. Pielke calls this the iron law of climate but it applies to all environmental objectives so this is closely related to Pragmatic Environmentalist Principle 4: We can do almost anything but we cannot do everything. The fact is that trying to reduce more and more risks costs increasingly more money. Eventually that cost becomes too much to bear and people will stop supporting those costs even if they reduce risk.
For example consider the proposal to get 100% of our energy from wind, water, and solar by Delucchi and Jacobsen. The author of the A Chemist in Langley blog is a pragmatic environmentalist. He has posted frequently on this proposal in his posts on the fossil free future proposal by Delucchi and Jacobsen and other similar initiatives. In the context of this principle he specifically has observed that “It places tight, and poorly supported, restrictions on a number of important baseline clean energy technologies and in doing so results in a proposal that is ruinously expensive.”
I agree that the proposal for 100% renewable is technologically possible but the economic costs would not be supported by most of society simply because of the enormous costs. Because renewable sources are intermittent and diffuse the electric energy system would have to be overhauled to included storage for intermittency and a vastly different transmission system to address the diffuse sources. Dr. Jesse Jenkins at the Energy Collective Blog points out the difficulty of relying on renewable energy for more than 40% of the energy supplies. While the installed cost of renewables might approach conventional sources the real concern is that all the other aspects necessary to maintain the electrical grid have to be addressed and those costs are overlooked by many advocates.
Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York Principles
Principle 1: Environmental Issues are Binary: In almost all environmental issues there are two sides. Pragmatic environmentalism is all about balancing the risks and benefits of the two sides of the issue. In order to do that you have to show your work.
Principle 2: Sound Bite Environmental Issue Descriptions: Sound bite descriptions in the media necessarily only tell one side of the story. As a result they frequently are misleading, are not nuanced, or flat out wrong.
Principle 3: Baloney Asymmetry Principle: Alberto Brandolini: “The amount of energy necessary to refute BS is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.”
Principle 4: We can do almost anything we want, but we can’t do everything: Environmental initiatives often are presented simply as things we should do but do not consider that in order to implement those initiatives tradeoffs are required simply because the resources available are finite.
Principle 5: Observation on Environmental Issue Stakeholders: The more vociferous/louder the claims made by a stakeholder the more likely that the stakeholder is guilty of the same thing.